All You Knead is Love

I recall when I worked in pizza joints as a pimply kid, big beachballs of pizza dough churning in cavernous steel bowls beneath a massive metal Popeye arm. Industrial mixers made quick work of enough flour, yeast and water for 100 pies. But if you’re a home cook, why deprive yourself of the meditative pleasure of kneading?

Fresh savory rustic bread, just out of the oven

I sometimes see TV chefs mixing their dough in a Cuisinart. While this works perfectly well, your dough will never have that intangible mojo the best food has — the love that comes from a human hand. Plus, kneading dough may be one of the most relaxing activities on the earth. Especially when the end product is a lovely, airy loaf of bread, crisp bubbly pizza dough or silky egg pasta.

In the book, “Heat,” author Bill Buford left the kitchen of Mario Batali’s famous restaurant Babbo to travel to Bologna to learn the art of making egg pasta. “For me,” he said, “the hand kneading alone may have justified the journey to Italy: crushing the dough under my weight, folding it in half, crushing it again, warming it slightly with the heat of my skin, stretching it with each repetition.” If you’ve ever kneaded dough in a warm kitchen on a rainy Saturday morning in winter, you’ll understand the poetry.

Bread is the original gift. In Italy, one of the greatest honors you can do for another at Christmas time is to give them a beautiful panettone, filled with candied chestnuts. I’ll often make a loaf of bread to bring to a party, such as the super-easy one above which was a gift to our friends Alex and Heather, who invited us to a Christmas Eve Morning bloody mary party. People ooh and ahh, and then when you answer their query about how it is that the bread is still warm, they say, “Wait, you made that!??” It takes a couple hours and little more than what’s already in your pantry, costs nothing and how much more impressive a gift than a candle?

The love is in the kneading. With pizza and pasta dough, the key is to knead for 10 minutes. No less. At about the 8 minute mark, you’ll notice the dough taking on a silky texture. That’s what you’re looking for. Different kinds of bread may require different amounts of kneading. But 10 minutes has always worked for me, and so it does for the following savory rustic bread (seen in the picture above). I give you the recipe as I remember doing it this morning — it changes a bit each time. So feel free to get creative with your ingredients, so long as you remember that kneading is a sacred art and you are to give it its just due.

*   *   *

Savory rustic bread
1 loaf (double for two loaves)

2 cups flour, plus extra for kneading and dusting
1 cup warm water
1/2 tsp. fast-acting dry yeast
1 tsp. flaky sea salt, plus extra
1/4 cup pitted black and green olives
1/4 cup salami, cut into strips
1/4 cup mortadella, cut into strips
1/4 cup proscuitto, cut into strips
1/4 parmesan, cut into cubes

Place flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add yeast and salt and mix thoroughly. Make another well in the center, add warm water, and combine by stirring from the center out, until all water is incorporated and dough looks raggedy. Dump it from the bowl onto a lightly floured cutting board and cover with the bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Remove bowl, and knead dough for 10 minutes. The dough will be sticky, so you’ll need to dust frequently with flour as you turn (if dough is sticking to cutting board, use a dough scraper or large knife to scrape up). Once your 10 minutes is up, form the dough into a ball. Then stretch out, and cover with a mixture of 1/3 of your savory ingredients. Roll up like a carpet, turn toward you lengthwise with the seam up, flatten with your hand, and cover with the second third of your savory ingredients. Repeat this process once more, rolling up a final time, and pat back into a ball shape. Dust with flour and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Place on a baking sheet in a warm part of the kitchen to rise for 2 hours.

Once two hours is past, get a clean white dishtowel and dust heavily with flour. Remove your dough from the plastic. On a dusted cutting board, pat the dough down and then stretch into an oblong rectangular shape, about a foot long and 4 or 5 inches wide. Fold the rectangle like a letter in thirds into a smaller rectangle. Stretch again into an oblong rectangle about a foot long. Place rectangle on floured dishtowel, seam side down, fold dishtowel sides up and over to cover, and let rise another hour.

Preheat oven to 400, with a pizza stone (preferably) or baking sheet inside. Open the dishtowel, and flip the dough over onto either a pizza peel (and then slide into oven) or directly onto the stone or baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve warm with butter or olive oil for dipping. Bread will keep for 2-3 days, reheat before serving.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 02:17:11


    Hey…I want one of those 😉


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